Fremantle’s backline has a new look about it in 2012, but according to defender Paul Duffield it is a group that has been quick to build chemistry under new coach Ross Lyon.

Michael Johnson and Adam McPhee have returned to defence this season, while former St Kilda full-back Zac Dawson has been the team’s preferred second tall defender alongside Luke McPharlin.

The back six, which has also included Garrick Ibbotson and Greg Broughton for the opening five rounds, has been solid in Fremantle’s 3-2 start to the season and Duffield said assigning players consistent roles had been the key.

“One of the great things that Ross did when he first came in, he settled our group really quickly and we’ve had a lot of time to work together,” Duffield said.

“Obviously we’ve played a lot together in the past as well, so it is a pretty settled group at the moment and there is some chemistry.

“Adam McPhee and Michael Johnson have come back into defence and they haven’t necessarily played as utilities and swung around.

“Probably myself as well, we’ve really been able to nail down a role in that defence.”

In a pre-season twist that potentially could have unsettled Fremantle’s defence, backline coach Todd Curley left the club just four days before its round one clash with Geelong.

Fremantle hasn’t rushed to appoint a replacement, with Lyon and development coach Roger Hayden sharing the role and giving the defenders a degree of autonomy.

Underlining the backline’s consistency, McPharlin, Dawson, Broughton, Duffield, Ibbotson and McPhee have all played every game, with 2011 regulars Antoni Grover and Alex Silvagni currently consigned to the WAFL.

Duffield has made a strong start to the season, leading Fremantle for rebound 50s, averaging 21 disposals a game, and, importantly, using the ball at 82 per cent efficiency.

The 27-year-old said he had dropped 5kg over summer and increased his running ability, with the benefits now evident in games.

“I feel like I’m running out games really well and have been able to both defend and attack really hard,” he said.

“There were probably times in the past where I haven’t felt I could do both.

“Certainly at the moment I feel like I’m capable of doing both sides of the game and doing it for four quarters.

“It started with making sure I had a really good pre-season this year and that’s something that I probably didn’t have last year.

“Now it’s just making sure that my uncontested and contested possessions stack up on both sides.”

Lyon was critical of Fremantle’s run and spread against Carlton last Friday night, and the team’s chances of improving that aspect of the game took a hit when Nat Fyfe (shoulder) was ruled out for up to three months this week.

Duffield was one player floated by the coach as a potential replacement in the midfield, and the right footer said he was physically prepared for the challenge.

“With the fitness base, which is the start of all things for me, that is an option that might happen,” he said.

“At the moment I’m really happy and really settled in defence.

“Sometimes if you start shuffling things around you might open up a little hole somewhere else, so I guess we’ll wait and see.”

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